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Bus Lanes Coming to 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

bus_125

West of Lenox Avenue, there are no bus lanes on 125th Street. DOT plans to change that this summer. Photo: josepha/Flickr

Bus riders may not be stuck in crosstown traffic on 125th Street much longer. DOT plans to extend bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue this summer [PDF].

The news came last night at a meeting of the Community Board 9 transportation committee. “As far as CB 9 is concerned,” said board chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, “I didn’t hear anything that made me think that we should not support the plan.”

Bus lanes on 125th have been held in check by years of political wrangling. But Council Member Mark Levine campaigned on moving forward with them, and his election in 2013 was a breakthrough for the project.

“I think we have great local support and a great need,” Levine said last night, adding that buses “crawl” once the bus lane disappears in West Harlem. “It’s just a great win for people in the community.”

On the section of 125th Street that already has camera-enforced bus lanes and off-board fare collection, the changes have worked wonders for bus riders. The M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster between Lenox and Second Avenue. Local buses have also sped up between 7 and 20 percent in the bus lanes.

Meanwhile, local buses in West Harlem, which doesn’t yet have bus lanes, have actually slowed slightly between Lenox and Amsterdam Avenues, said Robert Thompson, the MTA’s manager of long-range bus service planning.

While they’ve sped up buses, the new bus lanes haven’t affected car traffic. GPS data from taxis show that eastbound driving trips on 125th are generally faster, while westbound trips have either slowed slightly or not seen any change, according to DOT.

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Woodhaven Select Bus Service May Get Physical Separation in Some Areas

Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Cross Bay Boulevard could get a wide planted median, bus bulbs, and a road diet. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

After unveiling the preferred design for six miles of the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service project earlier this week, DOT and MTA met yesterday with advocates, elected officials, and community board members to go into greater detail. The agencies are considering physical separation for bus lanes at key locations on Woodhaven, and they showed potential designs for the southern stretch of the project on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Sources who attended the meeting said DOT is looking into separating bus lanes with flexible posts, small “armadillo” bollards, or a mountable curb like the one installed on a block of the Sands Street bike lane.

Select Bus Service would run on the Q52 and Q53 lines. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF].

Select Bus Service would run on the Q52 and Q53 lines. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF].

Camera enforcement could also keep drivers out of the bus lane, but bus cams on Woodhaven will require state legislation. Either way, it appears DOT is interested in more than just cameras. “[DOT staff] seem to recognize that they can’t count on photo enforcement, even with legislation authorizing it,” said Glendale resident Toby Sheppard Bloch, who went to yesterday’s meeting. “They said that they don’t think paint is good enough.”

The agency confirmed that it is looking at some type of separation for bus lanes on Woodhaven, and its presentation yesterday [PDF] shows a variety of barriers and rumble strips as options.

The presentation also shows how DOT would redesign the Cross Bay Boulevard section of the project (Woodhaven turns into Cross Bay south of Liberty Avenue). The Cross Bay designs call for dedicated bus lanes between the parking lane and general traffic lanes, which is a typical configuration on other SBS routes. The designs would also expand the center median, currently six feet wide, and add trees.

“They put a pretty heavy emphasis on placemaking, on making the boulevard more attractive,” Bloch said of DOT’s presentation.

One option would maintain three car lanes in each direction, creating space for dedicated bus lanes and a slightly wider median by narrowing the general traffic lanes. The better option would add bus lanes while trimming the general traffic lanes to two in each direction. In this scenario, the median would be up to 22 feet wide at some crossings and 12 feet wide at crossings with left-turn pockets.

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Utica Avenue Select Bus Service Will Roll Out This Fall

The B46 is the second-busiest bus route in New York City, carrying nearly 50,000 passengers each day. A subway line on Utica was planned decades ago but never built, and today bus riders on the B46 struggle with crowded conditions and slow trips. Now service is set to get faster and more reliable with the addition of bus lanes and off-board fare collection later this year [PDF].

B46. Map: DOT/MTA

Almost four miles of Utica Avenue will receive bus lanes as part of B46 SBS. Map: DOT/MTA

Last year, bus lanes were installed along most of the 1.3 miles between Church Avenue and St. John’s Place, the busiest stretch for the B46. The lanes have sped up bus trips between 8 and 15 percent during peak hours, DOT says, while car travel times have also decreased by 20 to 25 percent in the peak direction.

A more complete suite of improvements is on the way, as NYC DOT and the MTA upgrade the B46 to Select Bus Service, scheduled to start operating this fall.

The bus lanes will be extended south another 2.5 miles to Avenue O, near the end of the route at Kings Plaza. All SBS stops will get off-board fare collection, and next year, bus bulbs and real-time arrival signs will be added. Signal priority for buses will also be installed between Broadway and Kings Highway, with the possibility of future expansion.

Service patterns will shift slightly under the SBS plan. Today, the B46 local runs only as far north as DeKalb Avenue, while the B46 Limited makes local stops from DeKalb all the way up Broadway to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. The B46 SBS would replace the limited and run between DeKalb Avenue and Kings Plaza. Local service would be extended round-the-clock up Broadway to the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza.

Tyler Wright, 30, commutes almost two hours each way from Church Avenue to LaGuardia Airport, using two buses and a subway ride. “It is a long commute,” he said at an open house on the plan last night. “There is no easiest way.” Wright uses Select Bus Service on the M60, the final leg on his journey to work, and said the changes have shaved 10 to 15 minutes off his commute.

He’s excited for Select Bus Service on the B46. “You have a bus lane and a car lane. It makes it easier for the buses,” Wright said. “We’re going to go down Utica Avenue fast.”

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Streetsblog USA
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U.S. Transit Ridership Continued Upward Climb in 2014, Thanks to NYC

Healthy growth in New York City's subway ridership is a big part of the United States' overall transit ridership picture for 2014. Photo: Wikipedia

New York City subway ridership increased substantially in 2014. Photo: Wikipedia

Transit ridership continued to climb in American cities last year, even as gas prices sank. The American Public Transit Association is out with new data on the number of transit trips in the United States — 10.8 billion in 2014, the highest in 58 years.

Total transit trips were up about 1 percent compared to 2013, with significant variation between individual cities.

In Minneapolis, light rail trips grew 57 percent in 2014, reflecting the launch of the Green Line. Transit ridership grew 4 percent overall in the Twin Cities region.

Other cities that saw ridership growth include San Diego (8 percent over 2013), Baltimore (4 percent), Denver, (3 percent, Atlanta (2.5 percent), and Boston (just under 2 percent).

Meanwhile, transit trips in Detroit dropped 14 percent — concerning, but not surprising given the ongoing dysfunction of regional transit service. In Los Angeles County, transit ridership decreased 2.8 percent. The Chicago Transit Authority saw a 4 percent increase in rail trips but an 8 percent drop in bus trips, for an overall decline of 2.8 percent.

APTA attributed ridership growth in Indianapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Riverside, California, to service increases. In cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, and Seattle, APTA says the increasing number of transit trips probably had more to do with economic growth.

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Streetsblog USA
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Koch Brothers Loom Over Maryland’s Purple Line Fight

Look whose envoy has been dispatched to undermine Maryland’s Purple Line. Once again, Randal O’Toole of the Koch brothers-funded Cato Institute has been deployed to attack a light rail project in distress.

pete_rahn

Newly appointed Maryland DOT chief Pete Rahn will play a large role in deciding the fate of the Purple Line. At Rahn’s confirmation hearing, lawmakers questioned him about a fishy contract awarded to Koch Industries when he was running New Mexico DOT.

On Monday, the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a right-wing think tank, is hosting a debate on whether to construct the light rail project in the DC suburbs, which newly elected Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to kill. The debate will pair Rich Parson, vice chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, with O’Toole, professional rail critic.

O’Toole works for the Cato Institute, founded and funded by the Koch brothers. Cato dispatches O’Toole to political squabbles involving rail transit around the country, from Indianapolis to Honolulu. He’s so rabidly anti-rail that after Hurricane Sandy, he suggested New York City should replace its subway system with a network of underground buses.

Despite dispensing ridiculous advice, O’Toole continues to be treated as a serious thinker by American media outlets. The Washington Business Journal recently printed an O’Toole broadside against the Purple Line, replete with his typical arguments, like light rail is worse for the environment than driving.

Hogan’s appointee to head the state DOT, Pete Rahn, was scheduled to give opening remarks at the event today. But sources tell us that Rahn has since backed out after a bruising confirmation hearing with Maryland’s Democratically controlled legislature.

At the hearing, Maryland lawmakers raised questions about a highway project in New Mexico, where Rahn was previously DOT chief. NM-44, a 118-mile, $420 million road-widening that Rahn oversaw in New Mexico — the most expensive highway project in the state’s history at the time — awarded a huge and unusual contract to Koch Industries.

An investigation by the Albuquerque Business Journal [PDF] reported that Koch Industries was the only bidder on the project and approached Rahn directly with the proposal before bids had been requested. Koch Industries was also awarded an unprecedented $62 million contract for a 20-year maintenance warranty.

Former New Mexico Republican State Senator Billy McKibben told the Illinois Business Journal (which reported on the controversy after Rahn was installed as the head of Missouri DOT) that the deal would have bankrupted the state if it wasn’t for a well-timed oil and natural gas boom.

Correction 2:51 p.m. February 26: The original version of this story included the wrong date for the Maryland Public Policy Institute debate. It is March 2. 

Streetsblog USA
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Maryland Gov Larry Hogan Plays Chicken With Purple Line Funding

Newly elected Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he’s putting off bids on the Purple Line light rail project in an attempt to cut costs, but the delay could also jeopardize the whole project by putting federal funding at risk.

The Purple Line would represent a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,'s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

The Purple Line would be a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,’s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the Purple Line since Hogan’s election in November. On the campaign trail, the Republican threatened to kill the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade and was expected to break ground this year. Hogan has kept some state funding for the project in his budget, but hasn’t committed to building it.

In his latest announcement, Hogan said he is extending the deadline for bids to construct the Purple Line five months, from March to August. He had already pushed the deadline back two months, before taking office.

The additional time, Hogan argues, will allow firms to revise their proposals to lower costs and save money. His newly appointed transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, will study and review the proposals.

But is this move really about cost containment? Advocates are concerned that Hogan’s foot-dragging will have another effect: jeopardizing federal funding.

Nick Brand, president of the Action Committee for Transit in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, says Hogan’s new timeline would put the project out to bid in early August instead of March. Then, the state must spend some time reviewing and ranking bids before making a selection. But $100 million in federal funding was appropriated for the fiscal year ending September 30. Even if there are no additional delays, it’s going to be tough to finalize a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration before then, Brand said.

Running past the September date isn’t a dealbreaker, but it will increase uncertainty surrounding the project, according to Brand. “There’s apparently not a fixed deadline for the money to be spent or committed,” he said. But “once you’re into a new fiscal year, the competition is out there saying, ‘Maryland’s not ready but we’re ready.'”

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Streetsblog USA
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St. Louis Stunner Runs Away With the Vote for America’s Sorriest Bus Stop

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Photo: NextSTL

This bus stop in the St. Louis suburb of Lindbergh was the overwhelming favorite for sorriest bus stop. Image via NextSTL

In the end, it was never even close. This bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in suburban St. Louis won wire-to-wire in the voting for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America.

There was plenty of worthy competition, but something stood out about this stick in the ground next to what seems to be a divided highway. The only thing marking the stop is a single, lonely signpost — no sidewalk, no bench, and not much in the way of destinations.

The stop is actually an important connection point, as a spokesperson from St. Louis Metro Transit explained in the comments (we confirmed that it was in fact Metro):

The stop is on Lindbergh, a major north-south artery. The speed limit is 40 MPH in that section (it is not a freeway.) The overpass you see in the photo is Page Avenue, a major east-west artery. Vehicles use exit ramps to make the connection between the two streets, but there is no safe way for pedestrians to cross between Page and Lindbergh. So, the Page bus leaves Page Avenue, drops people off at that bus stop who need to transfer to the Lindbergh bus, and then returns to Page. It looks odd, but serves an important purpose.

Metro spokesperson Patti Beck added: “We do need to help our customers get to where they need to go and there is no pedestrian infrastructure along those two major roads.” She said the agency tries to work with municipalities in its service area to ensure there is proper pedestrian infrastructure when possible.

Indeed, the lion’s share of the blame doesn’t lie with Metro, but with the public officials and agencies who have created such a far-flung, high-speed street network. Transit, walking, and amenities for bus passengers are afterthoughts.

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RPA: Growing Outer Boroughs Need New Generation of Transit Investment

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, which forms the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 6 percent. Image: RPA [PDF]

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 7 percent — even though population and jobs in the outer boroughs are growing at a faster rate than in Manhattan. Image: RPA

With the boroughs outside Manhattan adding people and jobs faster than the city core, New York needs to reorient its transit priorities, argues the Regional Plan Association in a new report. The authors warn that increasing travel in the other boroughs will strain the local bus system and lead more people to drive, causing more traffic congestion and imposing the burden of car ownership on more low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

This trend is already apparent. You could call it a tale of two trips.

Trips to and from the Manhattan core are shifting away from cars, with almost 90 percent of commuters to jobs below 60th Street arriving by transit. Subways, the backbone of the network into and out of Manhattan, have seen ridership increase 23 percent since 2003. Major projects are underway to extend subways and commuter rail serving the Manhattan central business district.

By comparison, transit trips that don’t begin or end in Manhattan are slower and less convenient, and they’re getting worse.

While the region may be centered around the Manhattan core, the lives of many New Yorkers are not: 61 percent of NYC workers who live outside Manhattan also work outside Manhattan. Over the last two decades, the number of jobs in the other boroughs has grown twice as fast as Manhattan-based jobs. At the same time, buses — the workhorse of outer-borough travel — have seen ridership fall 7 percent since 2003.

To avoid a future of even more sluggish transit and congested streets, RPA suggests new rail connections, more Bus Rapid Transit lines, and improving access to existing commuter rail service for city residents.

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Bus Rapid Transit, Not Ferry Subsidies, Would Help Struggling New Yorkers

Image: EDC [PDF]

Per rider, ferries need significantly higher subsidies than subways or local buses. Image: EDC [PDF]

In today’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio returned to his signature campaign issues of affordability and equity. Focusing mainly on housing, the mayor outlined a plan for growth centered around transit-accessible neighborhoods, and he recommitted to building several new Bus Rapid Transit routes.

But de Blasio missed the mark with his big new transit initiative — a subsidized ferry system. Dollar for dollar, ferries are just not an effective way to spend public money to improve transit options for low-income New Yorkers.

“If we are going to have affordable housing, how are we going to help people get around? What’s the role of transportation in making sure that people have access to opportunity and connecting to where the jobs are all over the five boroughs?” the mayor asked. “Well, we thought about that.”

De Blasio said rides on the new ferry system will cost no more than a MetroCard swipe when it launches in 2017. The system will receive $55 million from the city and serve neighborhoods including Astoria and the Rockaways in Queens, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Soundview in the Bronx, according to DNAinfo.

“Ferries will be affordable to everyday New Yorkers, just like our subways and buses,” de Blasio said, adding that the ferries will help revitalize commercial corridors near their outer-borough landings.

This sounds great, until you look at how much ferries cost and how many people they would serve compared to better buses and trains.

Even with fares at $3.50 per ride, running ferries from Pier 11 to the Rockaways last year required a subsidy of nearly $30 per rider, according to the Economic Development Corporation. In part, that was because its limited schedule failed to attract much ridership. The more centrally-located East River Ferry has more ridership and a better schedule, but still had a slightly higher per-rider subsidy than bus service in 2013, on top of its $4 fare [PDF]. Dropping the fare to match the bus and subway would likely require additional subsidies.

Even the popular Staten Island Ferry, which is free and has frequent service, had a per-rider subsidy in 2011 more than three times higher than local MTA buses, and more than 10 times higher than the subway [PDF].

The role that ferries can play in the transportation system is limited by the accessibility of waterfront sites and the difficulty of connecting to other transit services. The East River Ferry maxed out at a daily average of 4,000 weekday riders and 6,000 weekend riders in 2013. 

There’s also a disconnect between most of the areas the ferries would serve and the transit needs of low-income neighborhoods. A better way to spend those subsidies to help struggling New Yorkers would be to bolster Bus Rapid Transit improvements across the boroughs.

De Blasio did mention Bus Rapid Transit in the speech, recommitting to his campaign promise to bring the city’s BRT network to a total of 20 routes by the end of his first term. The pace of expansion will have to speed up considerably to hit that target. So far, the administration has cut the ribbon on just one new Select Bus Service route, with a handful of additional routes in the planning stages.

A coalition of groups backing expanded BRT, including the Working Families Party, the Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Riders Alliance, issued statements thanking the mayor for commitment to BRT. City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez also promised to hold a hearing on the future of BRT in New York and the mayor’s plans.

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